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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - March 2024 Interview with STEAM Team Books Members (Part 2)

Whether you're here to support the STEAM Team authors, curiosity, or because you love nonfiction books, I hope you read to the end because you'll discover some amazing authors and super spectacular books!

Steam Team Books Logo - Name ans a decending rainbow of books on a white grid globe and a black background.

Today I have the pleasure to introduce you to four authors from the STEAM Team Books – a group of authors who joined together to celebrate and help promote their STEAM books. I hope you enjoy this peek at these delightful books and fascinating creatives.


"STEAM Team Books is a group of authors who have a STEM/STEAM book releasing in 2023. It includes fiction & nonfiction, trade or educational books.”


Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write? What drew you to STEAM books?...)


Michelle Schaub – A Place For Rain (Norton Books for Young Readers 3/12/2024) and Leafy Landmarks, Travels with Trees (Sleeping Bear Press 3/5/2024) – I write for toddlers through upper elementary students. I’ve been writing for over twenty-five years, and my first published works were nonfiction articles for children’s magazines like Highlights and Appleseeds. I have a passion for poetry and a fascination with nature and science. I love using wordplay and the sounds and rhythms of language to delight, inspire, and empower kids, especially when it comes to caring for the Earth and its residents.


[Author of 9 books, including Kindness is a Kite String: The Uplifting Power of Empathy, illustrated by Claire LaForte (2021), Dream Big, Little Scientists: A Bedtime Book, illustrated by Alice Potter (2020), Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day At The Farmers' Market, illustrated by Amy Huntington (2020), and Finding Treasure: A Collection of Collections, illustrated by Carmen Saldana (2019).]


Katy Tanis – Love Under the Stars (Mudpuppy 3/19/2024) – I do most of my writing and illustrating on the couch or at the kitchen table. I have a desk, but I refuse to sit at it for some reason. I have always made art and told stories, I started focusing on children’s books around 2011. I mostly write about animals, conservation, and ecology topics, but I do occasionally write stories with creativity, exploration, and/or mythical beast themes! I always loved math and science. My first degree is in Computer Science. I certainly can appreciate the magic in fiction, but for me, there’s something even more thrilling when you discover the magic in the real world! That’s what excites me about STEAM.

 

[Illustrator of 6 books, including Guess My Animal!: Endangered Species Charades; A Roaring, Dancing, Wiggling Game for the Whole Family! by Kathleen Yale (2023), Edward and Annie: A Penguin Adventure, by Caryn Rivadeneira, (2022),  Love in the Wild, by Mudpuppy (2021), I Am the Jungle: A Yoga Adventure, by Melissa Hurt (2020), Animal Olympics: Creatures Great and Small Competing in Incredible, Impressive, and Extraordinary Events! Discover Nature's Sporting Stars, by Carron Brown (2020).]


Nora Nickum – This Book Is Full of Holes (Peachtree 3/26/2024) – I’ve always enjoyed writing as part of my day jobs in environmental conservation and advocacy, but I started really focusing on writing books for kids–both picture books and middle-grade books–about five years ago. I love writing creative STEAM nonfiction for kids, either lyrical or with a dose of humor like this book about holes.

 

[Author of Superpod: Saving the Endangered Orcas of the Pacific Northwest (2023).]


Leslie Barnard Booth – One Day This Tree Will Fall (S&S/McElderry 3/26/2024) – I have been writing since childhood and have always dreamed of being an author. I write in my basement where it’s quiet and calm and I can focus on what I love best—playing with words. Science and nature fascinate me, so my books all center around STEAM. My first picture book, A Stone Is a Story (illus. Marc Martin), is about geology and the rock cycle. One Day This Tree Will Fall (illus. Stephanie Fizer Coleman) follows a single tree through its long life cycle and afterlife as a log, and is a celebration of interconnectedness.

 

[Author of A Stone Is a Story, illustrated by Marc Martin (2023).]

 

What helps each of you to be inspired? (perhaps a certain place, music, activity, etc.)

 

Michelle Schaub – I live tucked up against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. When I need a boost of inspiration, I leash my dog and go for a hike. Especially if I’m working on a lyrical or rhyming picture book, I find the cadence of my footsteps helps the words flow.

 

Katy Tanis – I can find inspiration almost anywhere. Since I’m interested in animal behavior and ecology, traveling to different ecosystems is a great source of inspiration. No matter how much research I do beforehand I always learn so much more when I visit a place in person or observe an animal in the wild. Of course, this is not a luxury that is always available, but every trip I take fuels many new ideas.


Nora Nickum – Walking in the woods near my house helps me brainstorm and think in new ways. Magazine articles sometimes spark topic ideas for me, too. In the case of This Book is Full of Holes, once I had the topic in mind, I looked around the house and outdoors for holes I’d never noticed before, and also had fun brainstorming holes with my family–useful holes, problematic holes, and underappreciated holes.

 

Leslie Barnard Booth – Nature! I feel an incredible sense of peace and belonging when I’m immersed in nature. I’m pulled out of my worries and into a state of wonder. My senses are heightened. I notice so much more. I think children are experts at observing nature. They can so readily slip into that state of deep observation. So, I try to learn from them and bring their aptitude for wonder into my work.

 

Now that we know a little more about all of you, what sparked your interest and caused you to write or illustrate your book(s)?

Michelle Schaub – A Place For Rain (3/12/2024) – I’m passionate about using water and land sustainably. I planted my first rain garden to keep stormwater from flooding the driveway of my previous home. Then I moved to Colorado a few years ago. One day, when I was exploring my new town, I discovered a rain garden at the local library. This rekindled my interest in rain gardens, and I began to brainstorm ideas for a picture book on the topic. The first words of A Place for Rain came to me as I listened to the plink, plip, plop of raindrops filling the rain barrel on the side of my house. 


Leafy Landmarks, Travels with Trees (3/5/2024) – The seed of Leafy Landmarks was planted by a stately oak that my children and I used to picnic under at my local arboretum. Near the tree is a plaque explaining that the oak had once been a gathering place for the Potawatomi people. Inspired by the idea that trees are witnesses of significant past events, I began researching the histories of other trees around the United States. I turned my findings into a road trip through poems.


Katy Tanis – Love Under the Stars (3/19/2024) – This is a follow-up to Love in the Wild, which highlights all the different ways animals express love and care. There were too many great stories for one board book, so Love Under the Stars was born. Some of my favorite animals are nocturnal, so it seemed like a good theme for the second book. I also love the boldness of bright colors on dark backgrounds!


Nora Nickum – This Book Is Full of Holes (3/26/2024) – The initial seed of the idea came from pondering the tiny holes in airplane windows and trying to find information about why they were there. That alone wasn’t enough for a book, but I started thinking about other holes I find fascinating, and how there are interesting holes across STEAM disciplines–from geology and engineering to art and music. It also felt like a fun topic for kids, since many kids love to dig holes in the dirt or sand, peer into giant holes at construction sites or smaller holes in tree trunks, or just get curious about the world around them.


Leslie Barnard Booth – One Day This Tree Will Fall (3/26/2024) – Reading Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees made me think about how we humans tend to miss all the struggle and drama of a tree’s life cycle because our lives occur on a much shorter time scale. I thought, what if we could spend 1,000 years with one tree? Well, in a picture book we can! So, this book follows one tree very closely, allowing readers to witness all it goes through—storms, fire, drought, and more. At the same time, readers see that the tree’s struggles, wounds, and damage lead to a proliferation of wildlife. And because the tree is so deeply connected to the rest of the forest, even after it dies, it lives on.

 

These are all such fascinating sparks of ideas. What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of being a children’s author or illustrator?

 

Michelle Schaub – For me, the most challenging aspect is keeping up with marketing and promotion. There is always a sense of “I should be doing more” or “what opportunities am I missing?” It’s easy to get lost in the business side of writing at the expense of actually writing. I try to keep the two balanced, but it’s hard.

 

Katy Tanis – Only one? For me, it is illustrating as quickly as I need to. And people (outside of the industry) say “Oh you are an artist, let things take the time they take.” But that is not the reality of the industry! 

 

Nora Nickum – One of the most challenging aspects, but also the most fun for me, is finding an engaging structure that’s just right for a given topic. For this book, I structured it around opposites: holes can be deep or shallow, tiny, or enormous, dangerous or lifesaving, problematic or problem-solving, and so on. I also really enjoy the challenge of writing about complicated concepts and facts in a light, conversational tone.

 

Leslie Barnard Booth – The uncertainty. Even when you have some success, whether you’ll be able to publish the next book is always a question mark. But writing is something I love, and I’ll never stop doing it.

 

I get the sense that despite the struggles and uncertainty, none of you will stop creating stories. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book(s)?

 

Michelle Schaub – A Place For Rain (Norton Books for Young Readers 3/12/2024) – The back matter in A Place for Rain provides step-by-step instructions for building a rain garden, so inspired readers can take action to “lessen the rainstorm mess.” [How fun!]

 

Leafy Landmarks, Travels with Trees (Sleeping Bear Press 3/5/2024) – Leafy Landmarks has so many fun layers for classroom use: poetry, history, geography, nature - all in one book. [Wow!]

 

Katy Tanis – Love Under the Stars (Mudpuppy 3/19/2024) – 1. There is a downloadable PDF with extra information, sources, and further reading, 2. There is at least one heart on every page for children to find, and 3. There is one hidden Katydid in the book! (I’ve started hiding one in all my books). [So cool!]

 

Nora Nickum – This Book Is Full of Holes (3/26/2024) – Robert Meganck did a really fun big illustration on the reverse side of the book jacket–a scene where kids can search for holes and see how many they can spot. Robert also hid extra holes in the background of some of the illustrations within the book. I hope kids have fun discovering them! [Sounds so fun!]

 

Leslie Barnard Booth – One Day This Tree Will Fall (3/26/2024) – I live in the Pacific Northwest, where nurse logs are easy to find. The temperate rainforests of this area are awe-inspiring. Being in this environment was definitely part of the inspiration for One Day This Tree Will Fall. I love hiking in the woods and seeing a new sapling sprouting out of a big moss-covered log. [Hope kids go explore & find some.]

 

What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing, researching, or illustrating your book? Was there a bit of your research you didn’t get to include?

Text © Michelle Schaub, 2024. Image © Blanca Gómez, 2024.


Michelle Schaub – A Place For Rain (3/12/2024) – I originally wrote A Place For Rain as a 1,700-word narrative prose story. This format just wasn’t working for the topic, but it took me a long time, and lots of revision to figure out what was wrong and how to fix it. I eventually wrote the book in spare, lyrical text with the sounds and movements of rain guiding the words forward.


Text © Michelle Schaub, 2024. Image © Anne Lambelet, 2024.


Leafy Landmarks, Travels with Trees (3/5/2024) – Leafy Landmarks covers fourteen historic trees through poems and sidebars. Some of the trees grow on the property of museums. Finding experts to review the facts on those trees was easier. For other trees, like the Japanese Cherry Blossoms in DC, tracking down experts took a little more sleuthing.


Text & Images © Katy Tanis, 2024.


Katy Tanis – Love Under the Stars (3/19/2024) – For the writing, the opening line was difficult. I needed to set the stage for a nocturnal animal book and love stories in seven syllables!

 

For the illustrations, I redrew the fox family so many times. But it was worth it, I am happy with the final illustration. 

 

And there are always more animals I wish I could have included, but don’t fit. I did manage to sneak a lot of them into the last page of this book.


Text © Nora Nickum, 2024. Image © Robert Meganck, 2024.


Nora Nickum – This Book Is Full of Holes (3/26/2024) – This book includes many kinds of holes from diverse areas of science, engineering, art, and music, so the process was like researching 30+ very different topics at once. I had to do careful, thorough research on every kind of hole I was considering for the book, but then only write a few sentences at most about each one. A picture book is relatively short, but a lot of research time can still be behind it!

 

There were a couple of interesting art history examples that I wasn’t able to include in the final book. I had read about pinhole cameras, for example, which are rooms or boxes that let in light through a tiny hole. In the 1700s, resourceful artists used pinhole cameras with glass lenses to project images they could trace and then paint. Artists also sometimes poked tiny holes in their sketches, in a method called pouncing; they dusted charcoal or chalk through the holes to make an outline on the final canvas.


Text © Leslie Barnard Booth, 2024. Image © Stephanie Fizer Coleman, 2024.


Leslie Barnard Booth – One Day This Tree Will Fall (3/26/2024) – One of the most challenging parts of writing this book was making sure I had a good handle on the species that would be present in this particular part of the world over the tree’s thousand-year lifespan. In addition, I needed to understand which species used this particular type of tree for habitat or food, and at which stages of decay. Some species need a tree that’s just begun to decay, while others excavate cavities in more thoroughly rotted trees. As the tree’s life cycle progresses, different critters move in. Certain types of detritivores start consuming the decaying log first, while others only arrive once the log is softer. Ecosystems are just so intricate! So that part really took some careful research, including interviews with experts in the fields of insect ecology, wildlife biology, and plant science.

 

Are there any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

 

Michelle Schaub – I’m working on a companion story to A Place for Rain, in the same spare, lyrical style, that focuses on pollinators.

 

Katy Tanis – I am working on Love Under the Sea, the third book in this series.

 

Nora Nickum – I’m working on a book in the same vein as This Book is Full of Holes, which will be titled This Book Bubbles Over. It will come out in spring 2025 from Peachtree. And it’ll have more fabulous quirky illustrations by Robert Meganck. To give you a sneak preview, one of my favorite spreads is about how bubbles can keep an animal warm or cool one down.

 

Leslie Barnard Booth – My next book, I Am We: A Story of Survival, illustrated by Alexandra Finkeldey in 2025 Another STEAM title, it’s about a common feature of both rural and urban nature—crows and why they roost together by the thousands in winter. During the early days of the pandemic, watching crows around our neighborhood gave me something to look forward to. I could count on the birds gathering together to roost at the same time each evening, and me and my kids got so much joy from watching them.

 

These all sound amazing. We will have to keep our eyes open for them. How do you deal with, or celebrate, rejections?

 

Michelle Schaub – I try to pull out any positive or helpful comments and let go of the rest. It’s just one person’s opinion, after all.

 

Katy Tanis – I have gotten to the point where I just expect rejections, so it just feels normal. If anything, I celebrate when I get a submission ready to send out because that is something that is within my control. I am a persistent bugger though, if I feel strongly about a book concept that’s been rejected, I keep revisiting it to see if I can find a way to make it work. 


Nora Nickum – I used to bake brownies, but then my daughter would get very excited when I said I’d gotten a disappointing pass, so the emotions didn’t seem to be lining up quite right in our household. Now I mostly commiserate with my writer friends. I’ve gotten much better at shrugging off rejections now that I’ve had plenty–and also discovered how wonderful it is to find just the right fit for a particular project. I still find reasons to bake brownies, though, whether I get publishing news or not.

 

Leslie Barnard Booth – It’s not easy! Rejections sting. I think what helps me most is to keep writing. When I’m writing, I don’t think about the business of writing. I just think about the words on the page and the story in my imagination. This frees me from the stress and fear of rejection, at least while I’m doing it! And then, the more I write, the more I can tell myself: Okay, that one didn’t work out, but look at all this other stuff you’re working on!

 

Thank you for these suggestions. Last question, is there a plant or flower you love growing, or wish you could grow, in your yard or garden?

 

Michelle Schaub – I’m a big fan of growing native flowers. As I recently moved to Colorado from the Midwest, I’m still learning what’s native to the Rocky Mountains. Currently, I’m a big fan of penstemon, or beardtongue, as they are a favorite of pollinators.

 

Katy Tanis – Great question. I got really into native gardening for wildlife during the pandemic. I love watching the monarch caterpillars on milkweeds. If I had the right environment I would add some carnivorous plants to my garden. 

 

Nora Nickum – Lilacs! I adore lilacs. I have two rather large lilac bushes that I transplanted from my old house when we moved because I was so attached to them, and I hope to plant a bunch more. So, I have some hole-digging in my future!

 

Leslie Barnard Booth – Actually, since I wrote this book, I have a new appreciation for dead wood. So instead of getting rid of the snag (dead tree) in our backyard, we left it in place. We view it differently than we would have before—not as something dead, but as something that can be a refuge for all kinds of living things, from birds to bugs to fungi. So, this isn’t exactly a plant I’d plant, but it’s a (dead) plant I’m keeping around!

 

NOW, let me take a moment to introduce you to these amazing STEAM books!

A Place For Rain by Michelle Schaub, illustrated by Blanca Gómez (Norton Books for Young Readers 3/12/2024) - A wonderfully lyrical, succinct picture book about kids in a school learning about the dirt and grime rain can collect and their determination to help by creating a raingarden to filter the water and create a special place for animals, insects, people, and rain. The book includes a guide for making your own rain garden. This is a great book for rainy day reads and encouraging environmental stewardship.

  

Synopsis: Pitter-patter, splutter-splatter, drizzle turns to roar. . . . DOWNPOUR!

But where do all those raindrops go? Dirty stormwater runoff can cause big problems, polluting rivers, ponds, and waterways. So this classroom plans and builds a rain garden, collecting excess water in barrels, creating paths for waterflow with stones and bricks, and planting native flowers and grasses that help the water percolate and invite wildlife to feed and pollinate.


With Michelle Schaub’s lively, engaging storytelling, and Blanca Gómez’s bright, beguiling illustrations, A Place for Rain provides an upbeat and actionable approach to an important environmental issue, and empowers readers with the tools to reduce pollution, diminish flooding, and create a habitat for wildlife. Informational backmatter includes instructions and resources for readers to build their own rain garden. 


Leafy Landmarks, Travels with Trees by Michelle Schaub, illustrated by Anne Lambelet (Sleeping Bear Press 3/5/2024) - Gorgeous endpapers contain a fun collage of the leaves and needles of the included trees and creatively provide highlighted information on the poetic forms used in the book (including Etheree, Sedoka, and Zeno). In this innovative road trip, a family travels across the U.S. discovering some of the nation's tallest, oldest, and space-travelled trees. Wonderful poems and detailed sidebars explore the history, longevity, and emotional connection of these special arbors. Ending with a call to action encouraging readers to plant, protect, and explore our nations special trees for themselves. It's a great look at some amazing trees and a fun exploration of fifteen poetic forms.

 

Synopsis: Road trips can be a lot of fun, especially when there are intriguing places to visit and new things to learn. Through a variety of poetic forms, readers are taken on an armchair cross-country journey across the continental United States to visit 14 historic tree sites, some famous and others less well-known. From the Emancipation Oak in Hampton, Virginia, to the Methuselah tree in Shulman Grove, California, readers will discover trees that have traveled to the moon, witnessed the founding of our country, and inspired hope during troubled times. Fascinating facts covering geography, history, and nature will encourage everyone, young and old, to take a closer look at our arboreal friends. An author's note provides tips on how to be a tree champion and how to plan your own "leafy" road trip. 


Love Under the Stars by Katy Tanis (Mudpuppy 3/19/2024) – A bright and cheery, rhyming board book featuring nocturnal animal families and some of the ways they show affection and caring for each other. In addition to animals little ones are familiar with, it includes some more unusual animals like the shrew, slow loris, and colugo. A great book for snuggle time. 

 

Synopsis:  A celebration of love under the stars for babies and toddlers!


Love Under The Stars Board Book from Mudpuppy is a dreamy companion to our bestselling board book Love In The Wild! Each page is filled with vibrant colors and charming illustrations of different animals expressing love at nighttime.


Inclusive Messaging – This book celebrates the love that different animals express at nighttime all with colorful artwork and sweet rhyming words.


Bright and Bold Artwork – Bright and colorful illustrations on 24 pages will make this a happy and loving experience for toddlers to experience and introduce them to different nocturnal animals as the species are labeled throughout the book interior and a downloadable field guide provides additional background information. (https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/1844/8525/files/LoveUnderTheStars_FieldGuide.pdf?v=1710446157)


This Book Is Full of Holes by Nora Nickum, illustrated by Robert Meganck (Peachtree 3/26/2024) – Starting with a full spread of a playground and a challenge to find all the holes on the page, this book challenges readers to think about holes as things that can be "indented or open/ made by a human or another animal/ one or many/ deep or shallow/ big or small." Sparse primary text introduces many different types of holes and secondary text offers more in-depth information. The lively, colorful illustrations help make this a great book for multiple ages. It will challenge your idea of how to define a 'hole," and introduce you to some amazing phenomena.


Synopsis: This book is chock full of holes—shallow and miles deep, microscopic and visible from space, human-caused and natural, mysterious and maddeningly familiar.


When you think of holes, what comes to mind? Maybe the irritating hole in your sock. Or the hole on the shelf where you plucked out this book. But did you know there are holes that suddenly devour entire gas stations? Big holes in the ocean that are visible from space? Small holes in balls that prevent a backyard home run?

A hole is a part of something where there’s nothing at all. Holes are investigated by scientists, used by artists, designed by engineers, and fixed by problem-solvers.


They can be natural or human-made, big or small, plentiful or scarce, mysterious or painfully familiar. Many are important to our everyday lives, whether we give them credit or not.


One Day This Tree Will Fall by Leslie Barnard Booth, illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman (S&S/McElderry 3/26/2024) – With an interesting twist, the book introduces a tree about to fall and then skips back in time to a pine seed swirling on the wind. Progressing through its life, the tree survives droughts, fire, loggers, and becomes home to many different animals. When it finally resembles the "wounded, worn, twisted, torn" tree at the beginning, it starts a new chapter in its life. This stunning book beautifully explores the intricate life cycle of trees.

 

Synopsis: Discover how a tree’s wounds and decay bring new life to the forest ecosystem in this lyrical nonfiction picture book for fans of Because of an Acorn and A Stone Sat Still.


When a tree falls, is its story over?


There are many ways a tree’s story could end: Gobbled up by a bird as a tiny seed. Damaged by wind or ice or fire. Chopped down and hauled away. But some trees—this tree—survives. And grows old. Riddled with scars, cracks, and crevices, it becomes a place creatures large and small call home.


One day, after standing tall for centuries, this tree will fall. But even then, is its story over? Or will it continue to nurture the forest and its creatures for many years to come? Complete with additional information about the role trees play in a forest ecosystem, this sweeping story invites readers of all ages to celebrate the incredible life cycle and afterlife of trees.


Thank you all for giving us a little peek into yourselves and your books. Wishing you all enormous success.

 

To learn more about these authors and illustrators, or to contact them:

 

Michelle Schaub – A Place For Rain (Norton Books for Young Readers 3/12/2024) and Leafy Landmarks, Travels with Trees (Sleeping Bear Press 3/5/2024) – 

 

Katy Tanis – Love Under the Stars (Mudpuppy 3/19/2024) –

 

Nora Nickum – This Book Is Full of Holes (Peachtree 3/26/2024)  –

 

Leslie Barnard Booth – One Day This Tree Will Fall (S&S/McElderry 3/26/2024) –

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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